Cuma, Haziran 23, 2006


Eolomea (East Germany, 1972) * *
D: Herrmann Zschoche

I don't know if I love and adore this film or not.

Any attempt at objectivity--never mind that criticism isn't objective--would reveal this East German science fiction film from the early 70's to be plodding, with a constipated story that continually proves to be less than it seems to be, and some of the most ridiculous period trappings you can imagine, including psychedelic light-show visuals that emulate 2001: A Space Odyssey (but unlike Kubrick's film, are unconvincing and fail to be fully integrated into the environment of the film), a nutty lounge soundtrack that never matches the action, and perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious slow-motion shot of two lovers running toward each other with open arms across a long beach. (You've seen that shot parodied a thousand times, but here it is, delivered straightfaced, and it couldn't be any funnier.)

On the other hand, most of those criticisms endear me to the film. Greatly. Only the plot I can't forgive.

The plot: some spaceships are reported missing from a space station deep in the cosmos, and on Earth a young female scientist investigates the disappearance by questioning a smug, mysterious professor who knows something about a project called "Eolomea." Eolomea, it turns out, is the nickname for a deep-space object that may be a new, unexplored world, or a supernova, or who knows what (apparently the scientists aren't that good). The ships have actually been dispatched to find Eolomea and discover what exactly it is, although it's so distant that they may never return. Just before things get too interesting, the scientist and her team, arriving at the space station, find that the ships haven't left for Eolomea yet, but are just now about to leave. (That's right--nothing has actually happened in the film so far. Sorry to get you interested.) And it takes forever to get to this point in the film, because we've also been following, in flashback, the history of one of the two men manning the space station, a captain who fell in love with the female scientist on the Galapagos islands, and now keeps a pet turtle in his cabin to remind him of those halcyon days. A nice touch, a propos of nothing. As the film ends, this fellow decides to join the team journeying to Eolomea, leaving his life behind for good.

There is some nice material in here about missing the shining rays of the sun and the cool waters of the ocean, to leave it all for what the black vacuum of space. But space itself looks pretty exotic, what with all the psychedelic oil-in-water lightshows (you expect the Grateful Dead to begin performing whenever these cut in). I actually dig this Barbarella stuff. I even dig the cheesy lounge score. I even kind of dig the aforementioned hilarious slow-motion love scene.

It's a science fiction movie of the 70's, and it is exactly the kind of science fiction movie, pre-Star Wars, that you always think you know about, but have never actually seen. All the cliches are here. It's trippy. It's talky. There's a big chunky robot that serves drinks. There's even an astronaut who gets infected by some kind of "shadow" spore, but that's never really explained, nor does it have much to do with the plot.

The plot is the problem. There just isn't one. It's an idea: this film will be about exploring the great unknown, like a cosmic Lewis & Clark. But nothing actually happens, and all the talking leads nowhere.

But, man, it's a German science fiction movie from the 70's, with fairly decent special effects and set design that recalls French SF graphic novels by Moebius and other Metal Hurlant artists of the 70's and 80's. If you even know what that last sentence meant, you should probably see this film. Otherwise, it's just another relic of a very, very strange time in cinema that will never come around again.

Çarşamba, Haziran 21, 2006

LeRoy, Talma, Bosco

My short story "LeRoy, Talma, Bosco," which I wrote a few years ago, is one of the short stories for June at Dogmatika.com. You can read it here.

It's not a great story, but it's nice that it's out there. The title comes from a turn-of-the-century poster advertising a magic & comedy act; LeRoy was the magician, Talma his assistant, and Bosco was a heavyset comedian. I had it hanging above my computer for years while I lived in Seattle and Salt Lake City, and when I had writer's block I used it as inspiration for a story (although only the first two pages were written; it took a few years to go back to it, figure out what it was about, and finish it). The whole thing about the Pekingese comes from watching the Westminster dog show and being amused by their squat appearance and I-dare-you-to-like-me grooming. They look like walking carpets.

Pazar, Haziran 18, 2006

The Primer 500

Here were the 500 films I watched as step two in my ongoing film education. Some I'd seen before, but were included because of the circumstances--for example, watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen is like seeing it for the first time, as was watching Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm!

1. 8 1/2 - Fellini, Federico 1963
2. Throne of Blood - Kurosawa, Akira 1957
3. Notorious - Hitchcock, Alfred 1946
4. Kiss Me Deadly - Aldrich, Robert 1955
5. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - Demy, Jacques 1963
6. The Red Shoes - Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric 1948
7. High Noon - Zinnemann, Fred 1952
8. The 400 Blows - Truffaut, Francois 1959
9. Sunset Blvd - Wilder, Billy 1950
10. The Bicycle Thief - De Sica, Vittorio 1948
11. Wild Strawberries - Bergman, Ingmar 1957
12. Beauty and the Beast - Cocteau, Jean 1946
13. Ballad of a Soldier - Chukhraj, Grigori 1959
14. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - Bunuel, Luis 1972
15. Breathless - Godard, Jean-Luc 1959
16. White Heat - Walsh, Raoul 1949
17. On the Waterfront - Kazan, Elia 1954
18. Le Million - Clair, Rene 1931
19. *Corpus Callosum - Snow, Michael 2002 (screened with the director as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival)
20. A Hard Day's Night - Lester, Richard 1964 (screened with film critic Roger Ebert as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival)
21. The Manchurian Candidate - Frankenheimer, John 1962 (screened with film critic Michael Wilmington as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival)
22. Punch-Drunk Love - Anderson, Paul Thomas 2002
23. Le Voyage Dans La Lune - Melies, Georges 1902
24. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Weine, Robert 1919
25. Careful - Maddin, Guy 1992
26. The Searchers - Ford, John 1956
27. Juliet of the Spirits - Fellini, Federico 1965
28. Harold Lloyd Films - Various 1919-1962
29. Brief Encounter - Lean, David 1946
30. Stranger Than Paradise - Jarmusch, Jim 1983
31. The Passion of Joan of Arc - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1928
32. Metropolis - Lang, Fritz 1927 (restored version)
33. The Leopard - Visconti, Luchino 1962
34. Midnight Cowboy - Schlesinger, John 1969
35. L'Avventura - Antonioni, Michelangelo 1960
36. Pather Panchali - Ray, Satyajit 1955
37. A Night at the Opera - Wood, Sam 1935
38. Queen Christina - Mamoulian, Rouben 1933
39. The French Connection - Friedkin, William 1971
40. Taste of Cherry - Kiarostami, Abbas 1997
41. Tokyo Story - Ozu, Yasujiro 1953
42. The Godfather - Coppola, Francis Ford 1972
43. Cries and Whispers - Bergman, Ingmar 1972
44. Drugstore Cowboy - Van Sant, Gus 1989
45. Touch of Evil - Welles, Orson 1958
46. The Rules of the Game - Renoir, Jean 1939
47. The Merchant of Four Seasons - Fassbinder, Rainer Werner 1972
48. The Killing Fields - Joffe, Roland 1984
49. Man with the Movie Camera - Vertov, Dziga 1929
50. Contempt - Godard, Jean-Luc 1963
51. The Innocents - Clayton, Jack 1961
52. Night and Fog - Resnais, Alain 1955
53. The Adventures of Robin Hood - Curtiz, Michael & Keighley, William 1938
54. Diabolique - Clouzot, Henri-Georges 1955
55. The Adventures of Prince Achmed - Reiniger, Lotte 1926
56. Modern Times - Chaplin, Charles 1936
57. The Philadelphia Story - Cukor, George 1940
58. The 39 Steps - Hitchcock, Alfred 1935
59. Key Largo - Huston, John 1948
60. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - Kramer, Stanley 1967
61. The Day the Earth Stood Still - Wise, Robert 1951
62. L'Atalante - Vigo, Jean 1934
63. The Mirror - Tarkovsky, Andrei 1974
64. The King of Comedy - Scorsese, Martin 1983
65. Open City - Rossellini, Roberto 1945
66. Red Sorghum - Yimou, Zhang 1987
67. Paths of Glory - Kubrick, Stanley 1957
68. Knife in the Water - Polanski, Roman 1962
69. Foreign Correspondent - Hitchcock, Alfred 1940
70. Last Tango in Paris - Bertolucci, Bernardo 1972
71. The Lady from Shanghai - Welles, Orson 1947
72. La Terra Trema - Visconti, Luchino 1948
73. Smiles of a Summer Night - Bergman, Ingmar 1955
74. All About My Mother - Almodovar, Pedro 1999
75. The Great Dictator - Chaplin, Charles 1940
76. The Wild Bunch - Peckinpah, Sam 1969
77. All That Heaven Allows - Sirk, Douglas 1956
78. Yojimbo - Kurosawa, Akira 1961
79. She's Gotta Have It - Lee, Spike 1986
80. Peeping Tom - Powell, Michael 1960
81. Bonnie and Clyde - Penn, Arthur 1967
82. Jules and Jim - Truffaut, Francois 1962
83. A Streetcar Named Desire - Kazan, Elia 1951
84. Rio Bravo - Hawks, Howard 1959
85. Blowup - Antonioni, Michelangelo 1966
86. Yankee Doodle Dandy - Curtiz, Michael 1942
87. The Battleship Potemkin - Eisenstein, Sergei M. 1925
88. Nashville - Altman, Robert 1975
89. The General - Keaton, Buster & Bruckman, Clyde 1927 (also screened with score by the Alloy Orchestra, and presented by Roger Ebert, as part of Ebertfest 2004)
90. Carrie - De Palma, Brian 1976
91. Audition - Miike, Takashi 1999
92. Sans Soleil - Marker, Chris 1982
93. The Lady Eve - Sturges, Preston 1941
94. Cleo from 5 to 7 - Varda, Agnes 1962
95. El Mariachi - Rodriguez, Robert 1992
96. Alice in the Cities - Wenders, Wim 1974
97. Badlands - Malick, Terrence 1973
98. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums - Mizoguchi, Kenji 1939
99. Trouble in Paradise - Lubitsch, Ernst 1932
100. Sunrise - Murnau, F.W. 1927 (last film in the Primer essays)
101. The Seven Samurai - Kurosawa, Akira 1954
102. The Gospel According to St. Matthew - Pasolini, Pier Paolo 1964
103. M. Hulot's Holiday - Tati, Jacques 1953
104. Cool Hand Luke - Rosenberg, Stuart 1967
105. Purple Noon - Clement, Rene 1960
106. Kwaidan - Kobayashi, Masaki 1964
107. The Hidden Fortress - Kurosawa, Akira 1958
108. Rocco and His Brothers - Visconti, Luchino 1960
109. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - Huston, John 1948
110. The Kid - Chaplin, Charles 1921
111. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - Meyer, Russ 1970
112. Tillie's Punctured Romance - Sennett, Mack 1914
113. Les Carabiniers - Godard, Jean-Luc 1963
114. Onibaba - Shindo, Kaneto 1964
115. A Woman of Paris - Chaplin, Charles 1923
116. Band of Outsiders - Godard, Jean-Luc 1964
117. City Lights - Chaplin, Charles 1931
118. The World is Watching - Munro, Jim & Raymont, Peter 1988 (screened with the co-director as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival)
119. Speedy - Wilde, Ted 1928 (screened with a live audience as part of Duck Soup Theater)
120. Sanjuro - Kurosawa, Akira 1962
121. Lawrence of Arabia - Lean, David 1962 (screened with Roger Ebert, MPAA President Jack Valenti, film editor Anne Coates, and restoration expert Robert A. Harris as part of Ebertfest 2004)
122. El Norte - Nava, Gregory 1983 (screened with Roger Ebert, director Gregory Nava and producer/co-writer Anna Thomas as part of Ebertfest 2004)
123. Gates of Heaven - Morris, Errol 1978 (screened with Roger Ebert and director Errol Morris as part of Ebertfest 2004)
124. Invincible - Herzog, Werner 2001 (screened with Roger Ebert and director Werner Herzog as part of Ebertfest 2004)
125. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Kubrick, Stanley 1968 ("director's cut" presented at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
126. Alphaville - Godard, Jean-Luc 1965
127. Frankenstein - Whale, James 1931
128. Tommy - Russell, Ken 1975
129. Modern Romance - Brooks, Albert 1981
130. Spirits of the Dead - Vadim, Roger, Malle, Louis & Fellini, Federico 1968
131. Apocalypse Now Redux - Coppola, Francis Ford 1979
132. The Apartment - Wilder, Billy 1960
133. Stagecoach - Ford, John 1939
134. Saboteur - Hitchcock, Alfred 1942
135. All About Eve - Mankiewicz, Joseph L. 1950
136. The Blue Angel - Von Sternberg, Joseph 1930 (German-language version)
137. Gulliver's Travels - Fleischer, Dave 1939
138. Shadow of a Doubt - Hitchcock, Alfred 1943
139. The Battle of Algiers - Pontecorvo, Gillo 1965 (restored version presented at the Orpheum Theater, Madison)
140. Zabriskie Point - Antonioni, Michelangelo 1970
141. The Thief of Bagdad - Berger, Ludwig, Powell, Michael & Whelan, Tim 1940
142. Sullivan's Travels - Sturges, Preston 1941
143. The Trouble with Harry - Hitchcock, Alfred 1955
144. The Lodger - Hitchcock, Alfred 1927
145. The Magnificent Ambersons - Welles, Orson 1942
146. The Stranger - Welles, Orson 1946
147. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town - Capra, Frank 1936
148. Network - Lumet, Sidney 1976
149. Atlantic City - Malle, Louis 1980
150. In the Heat of the Night - Jewison, Norman 1967
151. The Defiant Ones - Kramer, Stanley 1958
152. The Sacrifice - Tarkovsky, Andrei 1986
153. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - Fassbinder, Rainer Werner 1974
154. The Man Who Knew Too Much - Hitchcock, Alfred 1956
155. The Train - Frankenheimer, John 1964
156. Elmer Gantry - Brooks, Richard 1960
157. Serpico - Lumet, Sidney 1973
158. Greed - Von Stroheim, Erich 1924 (239-minute restored version)
159. Great Expectations - Lean, David 1946
160. The Holy Mountain - Jodorowsky, Alejandro 1973 (screened with director Alejandro Jodorowsky, co-producer Robert Taicher, and costar Nicky Nichols in Toronto)
161. Santa Sangre - Jodorowsky, Alejandro 1989 (screened with director Alejandro Jodorowsky in Toronto)
162. The Magnificent Seven - Sturges, John 1960
163. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Brooks, Richard 1958
164. Love Me Tonight - Mamoulian, Rouben 1932
165. It Happened One Night - Capra, Frank 1934
166. Vampyr - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1932
167. The Thin Man - Van Dyke, W.S. 1934
168. Suspicion - Hitchcock, Alfred 1941 (screened at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
169. Germany Year Zero - Rossellini, Roberto 1948
170. Birdman of Alcatraz - Frankenheimer, John 1962
171. Random Harvest - LeRoy, Mervyn 1942
172. The Thin Blue Line - Morris, Errol 1988
173. The Last Detail - Ashby, Hal 1973
174. The Killing - Kubrick, Stanley 1956
175. Detour - Ulmer, Edgar G. 1945
176. The Last Picture Show - Bogdanovich, Peter 1971
177. Dressed to Kill - De Palma, Brian 1980
178. White Zombie - Halperin, Victor 1932
179. The Third Man - Reed, Carol 1949
180. Dancer in the Dark - Von Trier, Lars 2000
181. The Trial of Joan of Arc - Bresson, Robert 1962
182. Deep Red - Argento, Dario 1975
183. La Dolce Vita - Fellini, Federico 1960 (restored version presented at Westgate Cinemas, Madison)
184. More Treasures from the American Film Archives Vol. 1 - Various 1894-1931
185. The River - Renoir, Jean 1951
186. Day of Wrath - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1943
187. The Parson's Widow - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1920
188. Michael - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1924
189. More Treasures from the American Film Archives Vol. 2 - Various 1894-1931
190. Doctor Zhivago - Lean, David 1965
191. The Mark of Zorro - Mamoulian, Rouben 1940
192. More Treasures from the American Film Archives Vol. 3 - Various 1894-1931
193. Amarcord - Fellini, Federico 1973
194. Rififi - Dassin, Jules 1955
195. The Hustler - Rossen, Robert 1961
196. You Can't Take It With You - Capra, Frank 1938
197. Ugetsu - Mizoguchi, Kenji 1953
198. L'Inferno - Bertolin, Francesco, Padovan, Adolfo, & De Liguoro, Giuseppe 1911
199. Eyes Without a Face - Franju, Georges 1960
200. Day for Night - Truffaut, Francois 1973
201. Nanook of the North - Flaherty, Robert J. 1922
202. Laura - Preminger, Otto 1944 (also screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with Roger Ebert (2006 Wisconsin Film Festival))
203. Destry Rides Again - Marshall, George 1939
204. The Shop Around the Corner - Lubitsch, Ernst 1940
205. The Outlaw - Hughes, Howard 1943
206. Hell's Angels - Hughes, Howard 1930
207. Some Like It Hot - Wilder, Billy 1959
208. Wages of Fear - Clouzot, Henri-Georges 1953
209. The Bridge on the River Kwai - Lean, David 1957
210. Wings of Desire - Wenders, Wim 1988
211. Ice Station Zebra - Sturges, John 1968
212. Double Indemnity - Wilder, Billy 1944
213. Ossessione - Visconti, Luchino 1943
214. The Big Sleep - Hawks, Howard 1946
215. The Jazz Singer - Crosland, Alan 1927
216. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow - De Sica, Vittorio 1963
217. The Lavender Hill Mob - Crichton, Charles 1956
218. The Virgin Spring - Bergman, Ingmar 1960 (screened at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
219. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Mamoulian, Rouben 1932
220. Straight from the Heart - Bhansali, Sanjay Leela 1999
221. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control - Morris, Errol 1997
222. The Dirty Dozen - Aldrich, Robert 1967
223. Ordet - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1955
224. House of Bamboo - Fuller, Samuel 1955 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison)
225. Leaves from Satan's Book - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1919
226. Gertrud - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1964
227. Master of the House - Dreyer, Carl Th. 1925
228. ¡Que Hacer! - Landau, Saul 1971 (screened with director Saul Landau at the Cinematheque, Madison (6th Annual Cinefest))
229. Medium Cool - Wexler, Haskell 1969 (screened with director Haskell Wexler at the Cinematheque, Madison (6th Annual Cinefest))
230. Rain Man - Levinson, Barry 1988
231. The Front - Ritt, Martin 1976
232. The Ladykillers - Mackendrick, Alexander 1955
233. Ivan the Terrible, Part I - Eisenstein, Sergei M. 1945
234. Shampoo - Ashby, Hal 1975
235. Gate of Hell - Kinugasa, Teinosuke 1954
236. Ivan the Terrible, Part II - Eisenstein, Sergei M. & Filimonova, M. 1946
237. The Brothers Karamazov - Brooks, Richard 1958
238. Gigi - Minnelli, Vincente 1958
239. Playtime - Tati, Jacques 1967 (restored version screened at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
240. I Vitelloni - Fellini, Federico 1953
241. College - Horne, James W. 1927
242. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse - Lang, Fritz 1933
243. The Phantom of the Opera - Julian, Rupert 1925 (restored version screened with accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
244. Call Northside 777 - Hathaway, Henry 1948
245. Panic in the Streets - Kazan, Elia 1950
246. La Strada - Fellini, Federico 1954
247. Ben-Hur - Niblo, Fred 1925
248. Death Takes a Holiday - Liesen, Mitchell 1934
249. The Postman Always Rings Twice - Garnett, Tay 1946
250. Notre Musique - Godard, Jean-Luc 2004 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison (Wisconsin Film Festival))
251. Wheel of Time - Herzog, Werner 2003 (screened at the Orpheum Theatre, Madison (Wisconsin Film Festival))
252. Au Hasard Balthazar - Bresson, Robert 1966 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison (Wisconsin Film Festival))
253. Shiraz - Osten, Franz 1928 (screened with accompaniment by Brandon McIntosh and others with Indian instruments at the Cinematheque, Madison (Wisconsin Film Festival))
254. The Long Good Friday - Mackenzie, John 1980
255. Out of the Past - Tourneur, Jacques 1947
256. Grand Illusion - Renoir, Jean 1937
257. Last Year at Marienbad - Resnais, Alain 1961
258. Even Dwarfs Started Small - Herzog, Werner 1969
259. Fata Morgana - Herzog, Werner 1969
260. The Producers - Brooks, Mel 1968
261. The Palm Beach Story - Sturges, Preston 1942
262. Watch on the Rhine - Shumlin, Herman 1943
263. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser - Herzog, Werner 1974
264. Los Olvidados - Bunuel, Luis 1950
265. Nazarin - Bunuel, Luis 1958
266. Viridiana - Bunuel, Luis 1961
267. The Exterminating Angel - Bunuel, Luis 1962
268. Simon of the Desert - Bunuel, Luis 1965
269. Red River - Hawks, Howard 1948
270. The Merry Widow - Lubitsch, Ernst 1934
271. Salvador - Stone, Oliver 1986
272. Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne - Bresson, Robert 1954
273. Heaven's Gate - Cimino, Michael 1980 (director's cut)
274. Le Notte Bianche - Visconti, Luchino 1957
275. Overlord - Cooper, Stuart 1975
276. The Main Thing is to Love - Zulawski, Andrzej 1975
277. Bad Timing - Roeg, Nicolas 1980
278. F for Fake - Welles, Orson 1973
279. McCabe and Mrs. Miller - Altman, Robert 1971
280. Othello - Welles, Orson 1952
281. The Masque of the Red Death - Corman, Roger 1964 (screened at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee (double feature with The Time Machine))
282. Ninotchka - Lubitsch, Ernst 1939
283. Westfront 1918 - Pabst, G.W. 1930
284. Journey Into Fear - Foster, Norman 1942
285. Little Dieter Needs to Fly - Herzog, Werner 1998
286. Belle de Jour - Bunuel, Luis 1967
287. They Were Expendable - Ford, John 1945
288. Mr. Arkadin - Welles, Orson 1955
289. The Immortal Story - Welles, Orson 1968
290. Patton - Schaffner, Franklin J. 1970
291. Bullitt - Yates, Peter 1968
292. Rendez-vous - Techine, Andre 1985
293. The Women - Cukor, George 1939
294. The Wild One - Benedek, Laszlo 1953
295. L'Age d'Or - Bunuel, Luis 1930
296. The Seventh Seal - Bergman, Ingmar 1957
297. Boccaccio '70 - Monicelli, Mario; Fellini, Federico; Visconti, Luchino; & DeSica, Vittorio 1962
298. Orpheus - Cocteau, Jean 1949
299. The Street with No Name - Keighley, William 1948
300. Ikiru - Kurosawa, Akira 1952
301. Steamboat Bill, Jr. - Reisner, Charles 1928
302. The Asphalt Jungle - Huston, John 1950
303. Monsieur Verdoux - Chaplin, Charles 1947
304. Insomnia - Skjoldbjoeg, Erik 1997
305. They Live by Night - Ray, Nicholas 1949
306. Leap Year (w/Coney Island) - Cruze, James (& Arbuckle, Roscoe "Fatty") 1921, 1917
307. Howl's Moving Castle - Miyazaki, Hayao 2004 (subtitled version screened at Westgate Cinemas, Madison)
308. Burden of Dreams (w/Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe) - Blank, Les 1982, 1980
309. Mother India - Khan, Mehboob 1957
310. Do the Right Thing - Lee, Spike 1989
311. The Naked City - Dassin, Jules 1948
312. Senso - Visconti, Luchino 1954
313. The House on 92nd Street - Hathaway, Henry 1945
314. Nightmare Alley - Goulding, Edmund 1947
315. Intermezzo - Molander, Gustaf 1937
316. The Mysterious Island - Tourneur, Maurice 1929
317. Reds - Beatty, Warren 1981
318. Desperate - Mann, Anthony 1947
319. Closely Watched Trains - Menzel, Jiri 1966
320. Paris, Texas - Wenders, Wim 1984
321. Pickup on South Street - Fuller, Samuel 1953
322. Melinda and Melinda - Allen, Woody 2004 (screened at Market Square Theater, Madison)
323. Heaven Can Wait - Lubitsch, Ernst 1943
324. Lessons of Darkness - Herzog, Werner 1992
325. Through a Glass Darkly - Bergman, Ingmar 1961
326. Winter Light - Bergman, Ingmar 1962
327. The Silence - Bergman, Ingmar 1963
328. Persona - Bergman, Ingmar 1966
329. In the Mood for Love - Kar-wai, Wong 2000
330. The Young Girls of Rochefort - Demy, Jacques 1967
331. Le Petit Soldat - Godard, Jean-Luc 1960
332. House of Wax - De Toth, Andre 1953 (screened in Stereovision 3-D at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
333. Kind Hearts and Coronets - Hamer, Robert 1949
334. The Brother from Another Planet - Sayles, John 1984
335. Scenes from a Marriage - Bergman, Ingmar 1973 (TV version)
336. Ministry of Fear - Lang, Fritz 1943
337. Forbidden Zone - Elfman, Richard 1980
338. Gerry - Van Sant, Gus 2003
339. Lancelot du Lac - Bresson, Robert 1974
340. Stray Dog - Kurosawa, Akira 1949
341. Walkabout - Roeg, Nicolas 1971
342. Two O'Clock Courage - Mann, Anthony 1945
343. The Edge of the World - Powell, Michael 1937
344. Night and the City - Dassin, Jules 1950
345. Slacker - Linklater, Richard 1991
346. Flesh and the Devil - Brown, Clarence 1926
347. Le Corbeau - Clouzot, Henri-Georges 1943
348. The Blue Bird - Tourneur, Maurice 1918
349. Baby Face - Green, Alfred E. 1933
350. Hiroshima Mon Amour - Resnais, Alain 1959
351. Mother - Naruse, Mikio 1952 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison)
352. Late Chrysanthemums - Naruse, Mikio 1954 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison)
353. 49th Parallel - Powell, Michael 1941
354. Schizopolis - Soderbergh, Steven 1996
355. Anna Christie - Brown, Clarence 1930
356. Somewhere in the Night - Mankiewicz, Joseph L. 1946
357. Munchhausen - Von Baky, Josef 1943
358. Floating Clouds - Naruse, Mikio 1955 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison)
359. Phantom Lady - Siodmak, Robert 1944
360. The Decalogue - Kieslowski, Krzysztof 1988
361. Whirlpool - Preminger, Otto 1949
362. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - Naruse, Mikio 1960 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison)
363. Heart of Glass - Herzog, Werner 1976
364. Shivers - Cronenberg, David 1975
365. Europa '51 - Rossellini, Roberto 1951
366. Swing Time - Stevens, George 1936
367. A Damsel in Distress - Stevens, George 1937
368. The Seventh Victim - Robson, Mark 1943
369. To Have and Have Not - Hawks, Howard 1944
370. Shock Corridor - Fuller, Samuel 1963
371. Aventure Malgache/Bon Voyage - Hitchcock, Alfred 1944
372. Frenzy - Hitchcock, Alfred 1972
373. Rosemary's Baby - Polanski, Roman 1968 (screened at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee, Halloween 2005)
374. M - Lang, Fritz 1931
375. Charade - Donen, Stanley 1963
376. Shadows - Cassavetes, John 1959
377. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Lewin, Albert 1945
378. The Spirit of the Beehive - Erice, Victor 1973
379. The Magician - Bergman, Ingmar 1958
380. Mouchette - Bresson, Robert 1967
381. 2046 - Kar-wai, Wong 2004 (screened at the Hilldale Art Cinema, Madison)
382. Faces - Cassavetes, John 1968
383. Female Trouble - Waters, John 1974
384. Lumiere and Company - Various 1995
385. Scarecrow - Schatzberg, Jerry 1973
386. Diary of a Chambermaid - Bunuel, Luis 1964
387. Caravaggio - Jarman, Derek 1986
388. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric 1943
389. A Matter of Life and Death - Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric 1946
390. Black Narcissus - Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric 1947
391. Foxy Brown - Hill, Jack 1974
392. Andrei Rublev - Tarkovsky, Andrei 1966
393. Animal Crackers - Heerman, Victor 1930
394. King Kong - Cooper, Merian C. & Schoedsack, Ernest B. 1933
395. The White Diamond - Herzog, Werner 2004
396. The Passenger - Antonioni, Michelangelo 1975 (restored version screened at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago)
397. The Pink Panther - Edwards, Blake 1963 (screened at the Times Cinema, Milwaukee)
398. Missing - Costa-Gavras 1982
399. Unfaithfully Yours - Sturges, Preston 1948
400. Gone with the Wind - Fleming, Victor 1939
401. The Birth of a Nation - Griffith, D.W. 1915
402. Le Jour Se Leve - Carne, Marcel 1939
403. Vertigo - Hitchcock, Alfred 1958
404. Kameradschaft - Pabst, G.W. 1931
405. Stromboli - Rossellini, Roberto 1950
406. Miller's Crossing - Coen, Joel 1990
407. Repo Man - Cox, Alex 1984
408. Mamma Roma - Pasolini, Pier Paolo 1962
409. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe - Bunuel, Luis 1954
410. Fando & Lis - Jodorowsky, Alejandro 1968
411. The Man Who Knew Too Much - Hitchcock, Alfred 1934
412. La Ricotta - Pasolini, Pier Paolo 1963
413. The Uninvited - Allen, Lewis 1944
414. The Bad Sleep Well - Kurosawa, Akira 1960
415. Lola Montes - Ophuls, Max 1955
416. Henry V - Olivier, Laurence 1944
417. The Court Jester - Panama, Norman & Frank, Melvin 1956
418. Boudu Saved From Drowning - Renoir, Jean 1932
419. Silent Shakespeare - Various 1899-1911
420. Floating Weeds - Ozu, Yasujiro 1959
421. Seven Men From Now - Boetticher, Budd 1956
422. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler - Lang, Fritz 1922
423. Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and '30s (Pt. 1) - Various 1921-1947
424. Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and '30s (Pt. 2) - Various 1921-1947
425. Marnie - Hitchcock, Alfred 1964
426. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold - Ritt, Martin 1965
427. Winchester '73 - Mann, Anthony 1950
428. The Sword of Doom - Okamoto, Kihachi 1966
429. The Awful Truth - McCarey, Leo 1937
430. His Girl Friday - Hawks, Howard 1940
431. A Generation - Wajda, Andrzej 1955
432. The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick - Wenders, Wim 1971
433. Goodfellas - Scorsese, Martin 1990
434. Saraband - Bergman, Ingmar 2003
435. Fellini Satyricon - Fellini, Federico 1969
436. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T - Rowland, Roy 1953
437. Port of Shadows - Carne, Marcel 1938
438. I Know Where I'm Going! - Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric 1945
439. Ill Met By Moonlight - Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric 1957
440. The Trial - Welles, Orson 1962 (screened at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison)
441. Torn Curtain - Hitchcock, Alfred 1966
442. Diary of a Country Priest - Bresson, Robert 1951
443. The Conformist - Bertolucci, Bernardo 1970
444. Rope - Hitchcock, Alfred 1948
445. The Haunted Castle - Murnau, F.W. 1921 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with piano accompaniment by David Drazin)
446. Journey Into Night - Murnau, F.W. 1921 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with piano accompaniment by David Drazin)
447. I Married a Witch - Clair, Rene 1942
448. Match Point - Allen, Woody 2005 (screened at Westgate Art Cinema, Madison)
449. That Uncertain Feeling - Lubitsch, Ernst 1941
450. The New World - Malick, Terrence 2005 (screened at the Point Cinemas, Madison)
451. The Wild Child - Truffaut, Francois 1969
452. Le Samourai - Melville, Jean-Pierre 1967
453. Sleeper - Allen, Woody 1973
454. Phantom - Murnau, F.W. 1922 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with piano accompaniment by David Drazin)
455. She Done Him Wrong - Sherman, Lowell 1933
456. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Ingram, Rex 1921
457. Sabotage - Hitchcock, Alfred 1936
458. …And God Created Woman - Vadim, Roger 1956
459. To Catch a Thief - Hitchcock, Alfred 1955
460. Fury - Lang, Fritz 1936
461. Stroszek - Herzog, Werner 1977
462. Ecstasy of the Angels - Wakamatsu, Koji 1972
463. The Best Years of Our Lives - Wyler, William 1946
464. Carnal Knowledge - Nichols, Mike 1971
465. Tartuffe - Murnau, F.W. 1925 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with piano accompaniment by David Drazin)
466. L'Eclisse - Antonioni, Michelangelo 1962
467. This is Spinal Tap - Reiner, Rob 1984
468. Topaz - Hitchcock, Alfred 1969
469. Bad Education - Almodovar, Pedro 2004
470. Safety Last! - Newmeyer, Fred C. & Taylor, Sam 1923 (screened at Duck Soup Cinema at the Capitol Theater, Madison)
471. The Dark Corner - Hathaway, Henry 1946
472. That Obscure Object of Desire - Bunuel, Luis 1977
473. The Conversation - Coppola, Francis Ford 1974
474. The Thin Red Line - Malick, Terrence 1998
475. Kiss of Death - Hathaway, Henry 1947
476. Week End - Godard, Jean-Luc 1967
477. Film Portrait - Hill, Jerome 1972 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, as part of the 2006 Wisconsin Film Festival)
478. Elevator to the Gallows - Malle, Louis 1958 (screened at the Orpheum Theatre, Madison)
479. The Last Laugh - Murnau, F.W. 1924 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with piano accompaniment by David Drazin)
480. Touchez Pas Au Grisbi - Becker, Jacques 1954
481. Faust - Murnau, F.W. 1926 (screened at the Cinematheque, Madison, with piano accompaniment by David Drazin)
482. Love in the Afternoon - Rohmer, Eric 1972
483. 3 Charlie Chaplin Short Films - Chaplin, Charles 1916-1917 (screened at Duck Soup Cinema at the Capitol Theater, Madison)
484. My Fair Lady - Cukor, George 1964 (screened with Roger Ebert, singer Marni Nixon, and restoration expert James C. Katz in Ebertfest 2006)
485. The Eagle - Brown, Clarence 1925 (screened with live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra in Ebertfest 2006)
486. Claire Dolan - Kerrigan, Lodge 1998 (screened with Roger Ebert and director Lodge Kerrigan in Ebertfest 2006)
487. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha - Dornford-May, Mark 2005 (screened with Roger Ebert, director Mark Dornford-May, and actress/singer Pauline Malefane in Ebertfest 2006)
488. Quai des Orfevres - Clouzot, Henri-Georges 1947
489. Children of Paradise - Carne, Marcel 1945
490. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil - MacDougall, Ranald 1959
491. La Notte - Antonioni, Michelangelo 1961
492. Fat Girl - Breillat, Catherine 2001
493. Being There - Ashby, Hal 1979
494. Man of Aran - Flaherty, Robert J. 1934
495. Pickpocket - Bresson, Robert 1959
496. Rashomon - Kurosawa, Akira 1950
497. Murmur of the Heart - Malle, Louis 1971
498. Once Upon a Time in the West - Leone, Sergio 1968
499. Broken Blossoms - Griffith, D.W. 1918
500. Celine and Julie Go Boating - Rivette, Jacques 1974

Snapshots of the Last Six

My ongoing project I've termed "Primer," or sometimes "Primer Two" (although I suppose now I've just finished "Primer Three"), a film education in which there is no class and no teacher and no set curriculum, just me going to a video store and scribbling down recommendations from friends or film articles or just happening to catch something interesting on Turner Classic. The idea began with "Rashomon," which I watched on TV for the first time several years ago, and thought to myself: "This is really good, I should actually go out and watch all those movies a person's supposed to have seen but never really sees." Unless you're a film buff. And now I am one, so...we're onto Primer Four, an advanced course. The last five films I watched wrapped up, effectively, my third course. My first was when I was in college, renting films like "The Seventh Seal" or "Knife in the Water" on my own. The second was begun with a hundred films, after watching "Rashomon" and "8 1/2" and thinking it should be the start of something, and I wrote essays about each film of the hundred, collecting them into a book so naive I don't want anyone to read it. Now I've finished five hundred, and these were the last six.

Pickpocket (France, 1959) * * * *
D: Robert Bresson

Out of the 500 films, Bresson quickly emerged as one of my favorite directors. The key was watching the revival of Au Hasard, Balthazar at the Wisconsin Film Festival a few years ago and being so moved by it that I didn't want to leave my seat to let the next audience in. One of his earlier films, Pickpocket is pure simplicity, like a silent. A man foregoes a day job for a life as a pickpocket, and we watch his obsessive activities with typical Bressonian detachment, but there's elegance and style everywhere. Of particular note is the scene where our pickpocket teams up with two others to work a train as it travels around Paris, and their cooperative efforts are so fast, so deceptive, that's a wonder Bresson's camera can keep up with the wallets, which move quicker than hockey pucks. I anticipated a breathtaking conclusion--since it's famous--but in fact what makes it memorable is its simple beauty. Yes, it could have been a silent film, one of the great ones; that it is made in the midst of the French New Wave, and puts Godard to shame by using older techniques, makes it all the greater.

Rashomon (Japan, 1950) * * * *
D: Akira Kurosawa

TCM just ran an evening with Mia Farrow introducing some of her favorite films, and this was the first; the others were Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel (which I already included in my Primer), Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, and Scorsese's Raging Bull. It was nice to revisit Rashomon; I was surprised at how much I'd forgotten in the space of a couple years. For one thing, it's almost a chamber drama: hardly anything happens. The central story involves a samurai, his wife, and a thief (Kurosawa's token actor, Toshiro Mifune). What exactly happens among them is never settled upon, as their accounts--Rashomon's entire narrative--conflict. Someone killed the samurai, but each character takes the blame, including the samurai, who claims he killed himself, when channeled through a medium. The framing device, involving travellers recounting the incident at the Rashomon gate, is only memorable for the use of rain, which Kurosawa lights magnificently as it rolls over the architecture and the characters as though personifying their misery. Meanwhile, the central story, to which we keep returning, becomes an obsession of the audience; essentially, we are the detectives, and we keep turning over the evidence hoping for a solution, which never comes.

Murmur of the Heart (France, 1971) * * * 1/2
D: Louis Malle

After this film was over, my wife said, "Well, it was better than 'The Squid and the Whale,'" and she's right. That film we both thought was good, but overrated and written with heavy doses of autobiography and belabored creative-writing-class metaphors; there might be just as much autobiography in Malle's Murmur of the Heart, but hopefully not too much. What's more, the characters actually seem human. As in Noah Baumbauch's film, the adolescent character has free-thinking, bohemian, hands-off parents, who encourage their children to confront adulthood a bit more quickly than they're prepared. But I found Malle's film much more absorbing and empathetic. There's no misanthropy here. Even the father, who gets the roughest treatment, comes off quite sympathetic in the final scene. The premise is that the youngest of three brothers is being ushered too hastily into the world of sex by his siblings--they drag him to a brothel, then interrupt the moment of coitus as a drunken prank. There's a constant feeling of chaos in his household; the parents are often absent, and the boys tease and taunt their maids, hold parties, replace Dad's prized painting with a forgery and then tear the reproduction with a knife in front of his sophisticate friends. Amidst all this chaos, young Laurent hardly has time to develop any crushes or sexual obsessions, and would rather read and listen to Charlie Parker records. When he's diagnosed with a heart murmur, he's taken to a health spa and accompanied by his vivacious mother, who's been cheating on her husband on and off, and now takes up with one of the spa's residents. Meanwhile, Laurent should be falling for one of the young, attractive women at the resort, but instead becomes sexually fixated on his mother. How this is resolved is shocking, all the more because it's somehow touching and meaningful. I don't know how he pulled it off. Maybe he didn't, and the whole thing is utterly immoral and I'm going to hell for liking this movie.

Once Upon a Time in the West (U.S., 1968) * * * *
D: Sergio Leone

I haven't seen much of Sergio Leone's films; in fact, I think the only one I've watched in its entirety is A Fistful of Dollars. What's wonderful about Once Upon a Time in the West is that Leone didn't want to make it at first--he'd completed his "Dollars" trilogy with Eastwood and was ready to move on before he got dragged back into the West again (kind of like his protagonists, who can never leave their bloody pasts behind)--and Leone walks away with what must be one of the greatest Westerns ever made. It's also great to watch this without having a clue as to what it's about. It takes about an hour--maybe longer--before it establishes its plot and its central characters emerge. For the first twenty minutes, you get what's essentially a prologue, as three killers sit at a train depot waiting to murder the man who gets off the next train. That man's Charles Bronson, unfortunately for them. Then we cut to a farmstead in the middle of the desert, and a man and his three children, all getting ready to meet daddy's new wife, about to arrive from New Orleans. They don't make it; Henry Fonda (!) turns up with a posse, and slaughters all of them. A new storyline: the wife (Claudia Cardinale) shows up, has no one waiting for her, and so heads toward the farmstead; stopping at a depot, she meets Bronson, who always announces his presence with a harmonica, and Cheyenne (a brilliantly cast Jason Robards), a criminal who's just escaped from prison--he arrives looking for a way to break his handcuffs. Cheyenne and "Harmonica" (Bronson is essentially Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character) develop a relationship that might swing from uneasy respect to sudden bloodshed at any moment, but as the story progresses, all three characters--Cardinale, Bronson, and Robards--form a tight bond as they struggle to protect the farmstead from Fonda and the millionaire who stands behind him. The story is played so simply that the viewer's impressed when a rather complex story does emerge (Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, of all people, are credited alongside Leone for the plot). And the film stretches to almost three hours not because there's a lot of incident, but because each scene plays with the stillness that might proceed a shootout, and every gesture, no matter how banal, carries the weight of a finger-twitch toward a trigger. Despite one absurdity in the film's conclusion (it involves the fate of Cheyenne), this film's unquestionably a masterpiece of the genre, albeit a branch of the genre which Leone and Sam Peckinpah took far afield from John Ford and Howard Hawks.

Broken Blossoms (U.S., 1919) * * *
D: D.W. Griffith

I find it hard to rate D.W. Griffith. Really I want to give this film two-and-a-half stars, but the art of critiquing Griffith is the art of cutting slack. Yes, it was 1919 and melodrama in cinema was in its infancy. Yes, although there really isn't a love affair between Lillian Gish and the "Yellow Man" (her Chinese guardian angel, after she's beaten and bruised by her abusive pugilist father) isn't really there, it was daring for its day simply because it suggested an interracial relationship. And yes, the accomplishments of D.W. Griffith, here as in Birth of a Nation (the sins of which Broken Blossoms hopes to atone), are almost invisible to a modern viewer's eye. But part of me wants to say, "So what?" You watch Griffith to receive an education on the evolution of early cinema. I am not so certain that his films are "masterpieces," however, because they are not immortal. His racial politics are still naive and patronizing, and I suspect they might have been in 1919 to many, as well, since there were Asian actors available who could have taken the role of "The Yellow Man," instead of the obviously Caucasian one who was cast. The most interesting aspect of this film, to me, was its use of hand-holding title cards, each underlining to the audience the heightened nature of the emotions involved. Amazing to think that within a few years, directors such as Murnau, Lang, and Chaplin would transcend Griffith's art (in Murnau's case, by working toward abandoning the title cards altogether). Griffith should be taught in film courses because of the history they contain (although not of the history Griffith tries to tell, particularly in the hazardous, loathsomely hateful Birth of a Nation); outside of the classroom, there's no use for the guy. I'll take Sunrise, by Murnau, over this any day of the week.

Celine and Julie Go Boating (France, 1974) * * * *
D: Jacques Rivette

On the other hand, I've just converted to adulation of Jacques Rivette. Not that I'd seen any of his films before this one. I read an article last week about the revival of his twelve-hour epic Out 1, rarely screened since its premiere because of its excessive length. I decided I'd seek out his shorter (three-and-a-quarter hours) fantasy, Celine and Julie Go Boating, because I'd heard it was a must-see for fans of foreign film, and also because the plot was described by the New York Times critic as "a haunted house of stories." In fact, it is exactly that: a story about a haunted house that contains stories within it. As our story opens, Julie (Dominique Labourier) is sitting on a park bench attempting to trace a magical symbol in the dirt with her shoe; she has a book on magic in her lap, which she studies intensely. When a stranger, Celine (Juliet Berto) walks past and drops her scarf, Julie tries to catch up and return it--a pursuit that lasts more than a day and quickly resembles Alice's desperate chase for the White Rabbit (not the last Lewis Carroll reference in the film). She returns the scarf to no effect, except that Celine then begins to follow Julie, who is a librarian. When Celine turns up at Julie's apartment, they begin living together, and eventually begin to mix their identities and trade them. Celine breaks up with Julie's boyfriend. Julie turns up at a magician's audition in Celine's place. They both become obsessed with a mysterious house from which Celine recently escaped. It seems that if you arrive at the house at a certain hour, you can gain admittance; but when you leave, you won't recall what passed, only flashes of someone else's life and the murder of a small child. They concentrate their attention on the house and begin to experiment with it. Celine enters, emerges hours later with hard candy in her mouth; when they suck on the candy, they became passive viewers of the history of the tenants of the house: a widow, his daughter, and his would-be lovers, who are attempting to run off with him and force him to break the vow he committed to his dead wife. So obsessed do Celine and Julie become with the mystery of the haunted house, that they become convinced there must be a way to penetrate the past and rescue the daughter from her killer, whoever that might be. All of this is handled with Beckett-like dialogue, ecstatic comedy, and bursts of vividly surreal moments. There will be times when you haven't a clue as to what's happening, but if you stay with it, you'll be rewarded by a satisfying, delightful conclusion. A mess, and a glorious one.

So my 500 are done.

Pazartesi, Haziran 05, 2006

Man of Aran

Man of Aran (U.S., 1934) * * * 1/2
D: Robert J. Flaherty

There is an excellent, if ultimately somewhat disconcerting, essay on the meaning and relevance of "movie magic" by Geoffrey O'Brien in the latest Film Comment. In the essay, "Spellbound," he dissects the meaning of the words "movie magic" by attempting to trace both the historical and the personal origins of fear and revelation brought into effect by sitting in a dark room and watching images projected on a wall. On the historical side, he mentions the imagined effects of watching the early films of the Lumiere Brothers , notably Arrival of a Train, which supposedly caused patrons to hide behind the seats lest they get run over by the hallucination. More fruitfully, he lets his memory retreat to the first projected films he saw: home movies directed by his father, which nevertheless created a spark of awe. Advancing forward on both fronts, he mentions D.W. Griffith, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and the impact of artistic innovation on the imagination--drawing the assumption that something's been lost with the medium's familiarity, and by now, "movie magic" may not exist.

I find movie magic in small moments, and they don't have to exist in the past. I can find movie magic in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (although my emotions soar a little even as O'Brien name-drops Vertigo, Laura, The Thief of Bagdad, Ugetsu, Lola Montes, Solaris, and Eyes Wide Shut, in that order; we have similar cravings in our moviegoing experiences--it's just that mine might be a little more open to contemporary films of the popcorn variety). I'm stirred by images of originality; my god is imagination, in any medium. Movie magic, to me, can be as wide-ranging to encompass the brief moment of motion in a film comprised of stills in La Jetee, or the juxtaposition of photographs and video in the same director's Sans Soleil; on the other hand, I find sublime the image/moment of the hulking Hellboy and a small child sharing cookies and milk on a rooftop while discussing love in Guillermo del Toro's comic book film. There is Peter Sellers dipping his umbrella into the lake while standing on its surface in Being There; Marcello Mastroianni watching his girl run ecstatically through the snow into the arms of her true love in La Notte Bianche; Balthazar settling into the grass amidst the sheep--especially that!--in Au Hasard Balthazar; but also Rosemary dropping her knife in shock and disbelief as she sees her son Adrian, and one of the apartment-dwelling crones fastidiously polishing off the notch it leaves in the floor, in Rosemary's Baby. If I might be slightly dulled to the innovation of the medium of film--one aspect of O'Brien's argument--I'm certainly appreciating the possibilities of storytelling and empathy in the medium. But it's imagination I really appreciate. Herzog puts it one way: he seeks out images that no one has ever filmed; he thinks our culture in the twenty-first century is starving for new images. I would substitute the word "moments," the palimpsest (to borrow O'Brien's term) of images and story that generates alchemically either the sublime or the deeply felt.

All I want to say about the Robert J. Flaherty documentary Man of Aran--which has, for the benefit of his camera, non-actors recreating moments in their daily struggle for survival, as he did with his earlier Nanook of the North--is that it contains two moments like this, for me anyway. One is the climax. After the fishermen, who live on the isolated Irish island of Aran and salvage what food they can to subsist, are caught out in a storm and nearly capsized, they eventually work their way to touch the rocky land and, leaping from the boat, run as far as they can from the massive waves (the tide, on Aran, seems not to crawl slowly inland, but to swallow its piece whole), and after being reunited with his family, the Man of Aran looks back to see his boat shattered against the rocks. Nature has won, but their lives have been spared for one more day. That's one moment, and it's suitably dramatic to close the film. What had me more affected comes at the film's midway point. The Man of Aran's son is fishing from a tall cliff. Seeing something, he descends carefully to where the slope disappears into the water. Suddenly the dramatic score of the orchestra--which heretofore lingered on the surreal movements of the waves like the classical accompaniment to some abstract sequence from Fantasia--is silenced, and we see a monster gliding near the surface of the water, its mouth gaping open, the nose jutting into the air and leading it forward. It's an enormous basking shark, but we don't know that--the titles haven't appeared to hold our hand and tell us that--and for all we know, it's a previously undiscovered lifeform, with a fin like a shark but the gaping mouth of a manta ray and the mammoth bulk of a whale. For a few moments, the boy is mesmerized. Then, realizing how close it is and how precarious is his footing, he scrambles back up the cliff. And the creature continues to circle, mouth hanging open like a banshee of the island's folklore, waiting for some child or another to fall into its belly. That's the kind of moment for which I bide my time watching all manner of movies. I can't say that I've experienced anything like that, in reality or celluloid.

And the next twenty minutes or so are spent watching the fishermen try to kill it! How sublime can you get: the intertitles (no, this is not a silent film, though it might as well be, so thick are the accents and spare the dialogue) tell us they want the shark's oil to light their lamps. Think about it: they spend days hunting, killing, and reeling in this massive shark just so they can read at night.

Cumartesi, Haziran 03, 2006

Being There

Being There (U.S., 1979) * * * *
D: Hal Ashby

Chance (Peter Sellers) is a gardener in the D.C. area who has always been, to put a point on it, either autistic or mildly retarded. I put a point on it because the idea of the film is that only one other person, of all the high society folks, and literati, politicians, and various famous personalities that meet him, will not put a point on it, or even notice. He has literally wandered into their midst after his master has died, and for the first time in his life he's put out of a home. He doesn't even know how to speak into a telephone: he's been sheltered and shielded within the same walls since he was a child, and he has lived comfortably dividing his time between tending to his small garden and watching television, the programs of which he obsessively imitates, sometimes physically. He is not quite present, but on the other hand, he cares deeply that others are never put out, either over him or for anything else that might be troubling them. That, as it turns out, makes a substantial difference in the way strangers will treat him.

While walking persistently forward down the streets of D.C. when he finds himself homeless, gradually growing hungry, but fascinated by the streetlife he's never before seen (including a gang of kids who threaten him with a switchblade and give him a message "for Raphael" that he will carry obligingly on), he steps into the path of a limousine backing up, and injurs his legs. The passenger, Eve (Shirley MacLaine), is the wife of a wealthy, elderly businessman, and offers to take him not to a hospital, but back to their lavish estate, where her husband's doctor and nurses can treat him. She finds him "intense," but doesn't pick up on why he speaks in such short, simple sentences and stares fixedly at the limo's TV screen. Misunderstanding his clipped speech, she thinks him to be a man named Chauncey Gardiner. At the estate, he'll be further confused as a fellow distinguished businessman by Eve's husband, Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), who takes to his mild, softspoken nature, and is immediately impressed at how Chauncey likens running a business to tending a garden. In fact, Chance is talking about tending a garden. Still, he has a deep effect upon Mr. Rand, and when the millionaire asks Chance to call him Ben, Chance doesn't know the unspoken society rule that he should really, really still call him Mr. Rand, no matter how much he protests. There's something, I think, about the way Chance calls his new friend by his first name, and reassures him, and speaks of the garden and "the room upstairs" (which Ben takes to be Heaven, but is in fact the room upstairs), that helps Ben confront his impending death of a grave illness--and Ben admits as much. You would expect, in a scenario like this, that Ben would stick up for his friend as all others begin to see through Chance's persona--which Chance never intended, and is not aware of, in the first place--but no, they too see him for what he could be, rather than what he is. Ben introduces him to the President of the United States (Jack Warden), and when Chance hears Ben call him Bobby, he calls him Bobby too. He also offers advice on the President's economic policy, but not so much with details, but simply by picking up on the word "growth" and speaking of when to plant and when to expect growth, as follows seasonal cycles. In spring, there will be rebirth. This should be obvious, but it never occurred to Mr. President.

Before he gets the results of a background check on Chauncey Gardiner (which never turns up anything), the President goes on television to quote him extensively. Chance appears on a talk show and it looks like it's about to be a great disaster, but Chance is Chance, and he's delighted when the audience applauds what's mistaken for wit and what's mistaken for--all right, what might well be--insight. He becomes a sensation for a greater public that will eagerly devour any TV personality that has the courage to state the obvious, and one quickly thinks of Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil and whoever is the pop-psych guru of the week. You also can't avoid thinking of George W. Bush when Chance says he doesn't read the newspaper, and others act impressed that someone so influential upon the government would avoid reading current events (Bush once bragged he never reads a paper, and Dick Cheney has admitted that he always has a TV turned on to FOX news). The similarities with the current administration end there. You're much more sympathetically inclined toward Chance, who might, at any moment, be found out for who he really is, even though he's never made the slightest effort to deceive anyone.

His most significant relationship, or at least the most amusing, is with Eve, who is set up with him by her husband--ever putting things in clear perspective since Chance started hanging around. Eve can't resist her romantic overtures toward Chance, and they are overtures, melodramatic and grand and worthy of her particular level of society. Chance has no idea how to respond to them until he sees a TV show with lots of making out, and he begins to imitiate--Eve just has no idea how lucky she is that she happens to be standing in front of him while he's mimicking the program. But Chance genuinely cares for her, and when he finally tells his doctor--who has found Chance out--that he loves her, he's not lying. It's just not clear that he loves her any more than he loves anyone else.

There's no doubt that Being There is a high satire. The background chatter of television has never been so prominent in a film as it is here; in fact, it's not background at all, but shares equal space with the dialogue that's vying for Chance's attention. It's fascinating, a quarter-century on, to see some of these clips and commercials. (I'm dying to know what the animated clip of the singing basketball star comes from.) The ease with which Chance's simple, factual statements about gardening translate into whatever the listener wants them to be speaks for itself, satirically speaking. What's more interesting is how it all plays: not like that other classic Sellers satire, Dr. Strangelove, which is Kubrickian removed and merciless, but with great heart and sympathy for all the players. That's rare, but it makes sense. It takes Chance's point of view. In a culture that seems to be increasingly sardonic and, well, snarky, it's easy to appreciate the value of a satire that's also wise enough to contain empathy. Much credit for the tone must go to the Polish-born novelist and screenwriter, Jerzy Kosinski, whose life was intertwined with tragedy: a friend of Roman Polanski's, he very nearly became one of the victims of the slaughter that took Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, and the other guests of the party that evening in 1969. After Being There, his reputation was damaged by a Village Voice article accusing him of plagiarism (for this film, which was found to be similar to an earlier novel published in Poland). He committed suicide in 1991. Hal Ashby deserves credit, too; Ashby, I'm coming to think, may well have been the finest filmmaker of the 1970's; with this, Harold and Maude, Shampoo, and The Last Detail, he proves himself adept at tackling a wide array of material but keeping the same strangely melancholy atmosphere, and always with great attention to the humanity of the characters. (I've yet to see Coming Home, but will and as soon as I can.)

The final shot is relatively famous. I think the meaning goes no further than a warm reassurance: all the players have not misplaced their trust in Chauncey Gardiner. Which hardly makes it feel like a satire at all, does it?